Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

254                            THE GAY GENIUS

government that others would not dare to tell. Today there exist in Su
Tungpo's works a great many state papers and letters to the throne that
he wrote during the following two years. These letters to the throne
are clearly dated, and give us some idea oŁ what he was fighting for.

The first thing he fought for was "to keep open the channels of
speech". In modern days he would be fighting for free speech, or a
strong, healthy public opinion. This was the theme he returned to again*
and again. He pointed out that in a good government an emperor
always took care to make himself accessible to everybody. For instance,
in the reign of the Emperor Taitsung of the Tang dynasty, probably
the best emperor in China's four thousand years, he allowed anybody,
even people without rank, to come up to the palace and speak to him*
The palace guards were forbidden to stop people at the palace gate if
they requested an interview with the Emperor. Su reminded the
Empress that it was the practice at the beginning of the dynasty to
grant interviews even to low-ranking officials and scholars without
rank. Now the number of those people who could have an interview
with her was limited to a bare dozen. How could these dozen people
know all that was happening in the country? If it should happen that
these few people consisted of incompetent men who were afraid to tell
her of the true conditions, Her Imperial Majesty might be led to think
that nothing was ever wrong with her people. Would that not be a&
unhealthy state of affairs? It is true that the other officials were per-;
mitted to send memorandums, but once these papers reached the sacred
precincts of the palace, they were as good as lost. Without personal
interviews, how was the Empress to get a clear view of the subj erf
discussed? Besides, there were many things that could not be put down
in writing. Affairs are sometimes too complicated to be clarified even
by a personal discussion. Much less could a letter serve such a purpose!
In another letter he said that when horses suffer, they cannot talk, and
"when people suffer and cannot make their voice heard by the ruler,
they are no more than horses".

But free speech was useless unless the scholars themselves had
acquired the spirit of independent thinking and courageous, criticism.
On this score alone he extolled Ouyang Shiu and deprecated Wang
Anshih, for Ouyang encouraged free criticism, and Wang suppressed it.
Su Tungpo was deeply concerned with the deadening atmosphere oi
the time when scholars had forgotten to think for themselves. In his
letter to one of his disciples, Chang Lei, written in this period, he said:
"Literature has never sunk so low as it has today. The origin of this
may be traced back to Wang Anshih. Wang himself was not a bad
writer; his fault lay in the fact that he wanted others to think like him.
Even Confucius could not make all persons alike. He could not change
the individual character of his own disciples, like the quiet, kind Yen